Morning TV Round-Up: ‘Suburgatory’ & ‘The Mindy Project’

Senior Television Writer
11.29.12 44 Comments

It’s morning round-up time, with quick reviews of last night’s “Suburgatory” and Tuesday’s “The Mindy Project” coming up just as soon as I read a novelization of the film “Iron Man” for the Gwyneth Paltrow scenes…

Two weeks ago, “Suburgatory” gave us one of its best episodes ever, a half-hour so well-constructed and emotionally resonant it inspired one of the best (and most personal) things Todd VanDerWerff has ever written. But if “The Wishbone” represented all that can be great about “Suburgatory,” “Friendship Fish” featured nearly all of the ways the show can sometimes go terribly awry.

The George storyline emphasized the show’s most cartoonish, unfunny aspects in showing how life in Chatswin had somehow turned him into Sheila Shay, which disregarded the way George has always been portrayed up through the previous episode (dating Dallas might change him a little, but not that much) and continued the show’s bizarre take on Cityfolk Are From Mars, Suburbanities Are From Venus. Exaggerating suburban life for the sake of comedy is fine, but Chatswin often bears so little resemblance to anything recognizably suburban that I’m not even sure what the joke is supposed to be, other than people in silly costumes buying ridiculous stuff. When Fred and Noah turned up at the country club trying to look all Noo Yawk, I came close to just turning the episode off altogether.

Actually, I came close even earlier, when the shameless plugging for Tessa’s beloved non-Apple tablet led into the first of several actual commercials for said tablet. I tend to defend blatant product integration, since it’s more and more the cost of doing business in an age where people otherwise fast forward through commercials on their DVRs. But if you’re going to pimp a product that much, you have to be waaaay more artful about it than this episode was. There wasn’t even really a joke there, just Jane Levy talking over and over about how much she loved the thing (and then briefly acknowledging that she maybe used it a little too much). And, as with George’s sudden love of diet grapefruit spritzers, Lisa’s elaborate sleepover plans went too far over the top.

Meanwhile, I never found time yesterday to write about “The Mindy Project,” but wanted to because “Teen Patient” was one of the show’s strongest episodes so far. As with Michael Scott, Leslie Knope and other sitcom leads with self-awareness issues, there’s a calibration issue going on in the early going where you can tell Mindy Kaling and her writers are figuring out how to make Mindy Lahiri both funny and yet human. An episode where she A)got to do her job (which she really hasn’t since the pilot), and B)was trying to be a role model for high school girls, dialed her in just right. She got to simultaneously be an authority figure and someone who was very aware of how out of her element she was – her initial confusion about, and later love of, Slime was a great running gag – and her interactions with Sophia and the fabulous Ben were so strong that I said on Twitter, only half-joking, that I wouldn’t mind seeing the show retooled to be about Mindy becoming a guidance counselor at that school.

I’m also impressed with the relationship between Mindy and Josh. I expected that to be over long before now, yet the writers and Tommy Dewey always keep Josh just on the right side of the d-bag line: believable as someone Mindy wouldn’t kick to the curb, yet still amusingly dude-like. The first few episodes suggested we were in for a Boyfriend of the Week model for this first season, but it hasn’t turned out that way, and it’s a funny coupling.

And Danny Castellano struggling to mediate a sexual harassment dispute once again illustrated how good Chris Messina is at playing social discomfort.

A very fine outing, and one I wanted to recognize, even a day late.

What did everybody else think?

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